AP FACT CHECK: Trump wrong on Bolton; more claims from trial
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump stated falsely Monday that House Democrats never called his former national security adviser to testify in their impeachment inquiry. Actually they did.
Trump’s tweet about John Bolton came as the Senate entered the second week of the impeachment trial, where his defense team stretched the facts on Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
Senators were grappling with a fresh disclosure that Bolton claims to have been told directly by the president that aid to Ukraine should be held up until the country agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Trump’s political rivals. Trump’s lawyers portrayed the delay in aid as a routine matter despite the findings of a nonpartisan federal agency that the freeze was illegal.
Here’s a look at some recent statements where truth came up short:
TRUMP: “The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify. It is up to them, not up to the Senate!” — tweet.
THE FACTS: That’s false in its entirety. House Democrats did ask Bolton to testify, and he declined. He did not show up for his deposition. Trump is also incorrect in suggesting impeachment witnesses are the sole province of the House.
House Democrats decided not to pursue a subpoena compelling Bolton to testify in the House proceedings because he threatened to sue, which could have meant an extended court fight. Afterward, however, Bolton signaled his willingness to testify at the Senate trial if he’s subpoenaed.
The Senate trial has yet to resolve if any witnesses will be called, much less who. It is empowered to do so if it chooses, contrary to Trump’s suggestion that “it is up to” the House only.
Bolton’s behind-the-scenes account is in the manuscript of his coming book. It intensified calls from Democrats to make him a witness because it contradicts key assertions by Trump and his defense team’s argument that there is no evidence the president conditioned aid to Ukraine on an investigation of his political rivals.
TRUMP LAWYER JAY SEKULOW, referring to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader: “Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath.” — Monday’s trial argument.
THE FACTS: Trump made no such request in the phone call. And beyond the phone call, there’s scant if any evidence that Trump cared about Ukraine’s history of systemic corruption unless it might involve Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president.
In the call, according to the rough transcript released by the White House, Trump repeatedly pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and a groundless conspiracy theory that Ukrainians tried to help Democrats win the 2016 election. He didn’t mention Ukrainian corruption.
Trump delayed military aid to Ukraine despite a Pentagon review that found the country had made sufficient progress in cleaning up its legacy of corruption to merit the aid that Congress had approved.
SEKULOW: “It was President Zelenskiy who said no pressure.” — Monday’s trial argument.
THE FACTS: True, but the statement skirts important context.
In and around the July 25 phone call, Zelenskiy was deferential to Trump as his country, menaced by Russia, tried to keep U.S. military aid flowing. Even so, Ukrainian officials felt pressure for months to do Trump’s bidding, and Zelenskiy himself eventually complained about Trump’s dealings with him.
The Associated Press reported that in May, even before taking office, Zelenskiy knew that vital military support might depend on whether he agreed to investigate Democrats as Trump was demanding.
After the July 25 call, Zelenskiy said he had no problem with Trump’s comments on the call. But by then, Ukrainian officials were wondering why the aid was being held up. And in October, while insisting “there was no pressure or blackmail from the U.S.,” he criticized Trump for blocking the aid and for casting his country as corrupt.
“If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us,” he told Time. “I think that’s just about fairness.”
TRUMP LAWYER MIKE PURPURA, dismissing the idea that military aid was released because Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine had been exposed: “On Sept. 11, based on the information collected and presented to President Trump, the president lifted the pause on the security assistance. ... Our process gave the president the confidence he needed to approve the release of the security sector assistance. ... The president’s concerns were addressed in the ordinary course; the president wasn’t ‘caught’ as the House managers allege.”
THE FACTS: The “pause” in Ukraine’s military aid was hardly routine, according to testimony heard by House investigators. Moreover, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found the aid freeze to be illegal.
House investigators heard about confusion and frustration among senior State Department and Pentagon officials when they learned the congressionally approved aid was being held.
“I was embarrassed that I could not give (Ukraine) any explanation for why it was withheld,” said William Taylor, who was the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.
The Defense Department’s Laura Cooper said she and other national security aides unsuccessfully tried to get an explanation for the hold and expressed concern about the White House’s legal authority. The Pentagon had already certified to congressional committees in May that Ukraine had made enough progress on reducing corruption to receive the military assistance.
Catherine Croft, special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department, said national security agencies were unified in support of the aid, and she had never before encountered a time when the White House budget office had injected itself into such a matter.
Top advisers scrambled to get Trump to release the aid through August. Ultimately, on Sept. 11, the funds were suddenly released, after Trump learned of the whistleblower’s complaint and a few days after Democrats opened a congressional investigation of the episode. The Government Accountability Office later found that the White House budget office “withheld the funds for an unauthorized reason in violation” of the law that requires the executive branch to spend money that is appropriated by Congress.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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